you're too young & eager to love
22 September 2016 @ 04:59 pm
They are reduced to hands and mouths.

The floor is hard beneath her knees; bruises blossom on her lily skin. It doesn’t matter. He is a tall, fierce warmth against her back. His hands like scalding shackles across her shoulders and breasts. She can feel his mouth, wet, on the cold notch of spine at the top of her neck. He traces his skillful, calloused fingers across her stomach, and all she can feel is the splintering, decadent pivot of his hips and the insatiable heat between her own thighs.

He wants.

She aches.

He has always been hers. Yes, there are the others – to say she was not fond of Sara would have been dishonest, and she takes pride in how eagerly Tull wishes to prove himself - but from the beginning, Eric had thawed a piece of her frozen heart.

It was not maternal, her affection for him. Even as a child he had been willful, cocksure, rugged. From the moment of his servitude, he had been her Huntsman. So she had not favored him as a mother, no, but as a Queen favors a most loyal subject (she, who knew only cold comfort and barren grief). She had not swept her silver hands across his heated brow and kissed away his fever dreams; she had not comforted him with soft lullabies and softer touches. Yet Freya was a beacon nonetheless.

Freya was a savior, as she was a conqueror.

Freya was the stuff of myth and legend, and so she was his first light in the darkness.

(He was very young, and so he did not know. Children are easily tempered. Boys are easily claimed.)

“I think she’s the Lady in the Lake,” Tull says over a breakfast of hot bread, butter, and blackberry preserves. They’ve been with the Ice Queen for three years now, and breakfast is still Tull’s favorite part of the day. He is serious everywhere but the dining hall.

Sara scoffs behind her mug of mint tea. It burns her tongue. She isn’t used to hot things anymore, but she likes the feel of the steam against her mouth and the smell that is fresh and green. “Queen Freya? Don’t be daft. That’s baby stuff.”

“It’s of the lake.” Eric says, wrapping his wrist with old gauze. Sara had caught him yesterday in the training yard and nearly broke it with one of her trademark twist moves.

“What?” Tull asks.

“It’s Lady of the Lake. Not in the lake. My mother used to tell me stories of her and some boy who pulled a sword from a rock.”

Tull lowers his eyes, and Sara glances at him disapprovingly. They do not speak of mothers or fathers anymore. They have not been children for some time now, and they try their best to remember it.

Eric finishes wrapping his wrist. He takes a piece of bread from the basket when he stands, headed for the yard, already tall and defiant in his body language. “Doesn’t matter anyway. Fairytales aren’t real.” In a year, he will be the best with a sword and an axe. For now, he makes do with his sharp wit and persistence.

It is later that night, the three of them half-grown bodies overlapping in one makeshift bed, that Sara reaches over, fingers searching for his, and continues their conversation in a whisper. “You don’t have to believe in a fairytale to love it.”

“What are you on about?” Eric has sleep in his voice and eyes.

“You can’t love her,” she says, somewhere between a threat and a plea. If she were a different girl, it would be more plea, but it isn’t.

“Can’t love anyone,” he says, and squeezes her hand.

Between them, Tull groans and shifts to his side, pushing an arm into Sara’s chest.

Freya’s jeweled cloak shivers across the ground, twinkling sharply like icicles. She has an ethereal, aloof manner to her despite the immediate beauty surrounding her. The winter garden, a landscape of dogwood, heathers, and winterberry. She’s turning the roses to ice when Eric sees her, fifteen years old with snow in his hair, her fingers ringed in twisted, barbed silver. One of the rings ends in a sharp, deadly point, encasing her entire finger.

There’s a large white owl perched on an oak branch above her. Its round eyes spot him, even though he only moves to breathe. It hoots once, solemn, and the Queen’s gaze finds him pressed against the thorny shrubbery.

Everything is thin and barren in her Queendom. There is little cover for hiding. His breath causes the air to mist, but he is not scared. He steps forward before she can beckon him.

She does not smile, but she plucks a frozen rose from the bush and twirls it between her fingers. It shines in the daylight, the red petals caught at the peak of their beauty, made timeless. “Your name is Eric. I have been watching you. You show great promise, along with the red-haired one.”

“We train hard, my Queen.”

“We?” She raises an eyebrow. Her voice is deceptively soft, impossibly devoid of emotion. “You are a we already?”

He feels himself blush, his tongue thick in his mouth, and drops his gaze. “I only meant …”

“I know what you meant, boy. I remember the feeling well.” Freya steps closer, proud of how he squares his shoulders and lifts his chin. She catches his jaw, harder than he would have thought possible, and he feels the burn of her icy touch. Briefly, he thinks of Tull, and how she had nearly frozen his entire mouth the first time they had arrived, the first time she had decried that love be outlawed. “Do not disappoint me. I have great things planned for you.”

She drops her hand, and he asks without thinking, “Are you a good witch?”

He has never heard her laugh before. He cannot even remember having seen her smile. But she laughs now, in the wake of his question. It is light and fragile, the sound of fresh snow blanketing wildflowers. He feels foolish, but he knows that the question stems from a deeper urge within him; he wants to tell her that he would fight for her, die for her, if she was good. That her coldness and her sorcery do no matter to him. That what he seeks is fairness and compassion. He wants a Queen worthy of servitude, and there is something about her snow-skin and soft voice that beckon him.

He is still young. He still does not know.

He is seventeen when he first touches her.

He has the heavy steps of a soldier as he pushes open the solid oak doors of her antechamber, unbidden but already welcome. He smells like rust and frozen waters. There is blood beneath his fingernails and a grin on his wide, sloping mouth.

“I do not think you ever age,” he tells her in greeting, his voice brogue and thick at the syllables.

He has only been gone, raiding, for a handful of months, but she seems taller to him somehow, standing before a silver mirror, a thick cloak of fur settled over her shoulders and her hair swept back from across her face.

“Huntsman.” She smiles with only one side of her mouth, the tiniest hint of emotion, and extends her hand to him.

He presses his raw mouth across her knuckles. His hair has grown, and a few strands slip from its leather knot and brush her fingers when his head dips in subservience. She notes the scratch of stubble across her skin.

“You have grown. What do you bring me from your campaign?”

“More lands, my Queen, and more recruits.”

It is the same response she has heard many times before. She nods, imperial, and flicks her hand in dismissal. She is already half turned from him when he catches her by the wrist, his fingers rough against her cold skin and thin veins.

He reaches and grasps and takes, his grip like an anchor.

As if in warning, a shiver of ice spreads across her mirror.

But Eric grins with all the charm of a boy and places a pair of fragile earrings in her palm. “The Blackbeard’s lands are known for their skilled craftsman, my Lady. I have brought these for your inspection. As a token.”

They are silver, like the delicate working of her crown, and crusted in small diamonds. A larger crystal in the shape of a teardrop dangles from the setting. She closes her fingers around them. She does not say anything, and he leaves quietly with his spine straight and his eyes warm, but she will wear them every day.

As he will spend hours rubbing his fingers together, trying to remember the coldness of her wrist.

“What are you doing?” Sara asks him, her copper hair twisted away from her face by her many braids, a smear of dirt clinging to her strong cheek.

“You’re a bit dirty,” he says, and rubs a thumb across her skin.

She is warm and freckled. She smiles easily. She is neither delicate nor ethereal. She has built her body into a weapon, her eyesight the sharpest and best for the bow, all the softness grace provided her at birth ruined by a warrior’s life.

In a week, he will discover that the rest of her is freckled too. That her finely muscled arms and calves yield to his fingers. That she is an entirely different landscape, one that she offers for his discovery.

He will not think of Freya. He will not think he has betrayed his Queen.

He will wear the necklace Sara gives him, and he will call her wife.

But first, he will come home from his thirteenth raid, and he will place a triangle pendant around his Queen’s throat. It is heavy with diamonds, and it is another one of his promises.

He will be reduced to his hands and his mouth.

For her sake, it is not the necklace that undoes her – she is not a woman to be undone by trinkets. It is the callous rub of his fingers across her collarbone, the way he brushes her heavy hair from her neck. There is something so familiar in this most gentle of gestures that she remembers the Duke of Blackwood and how his mouth felt below her ear, against her shoulder, inside the sensitive crook of her arm.

The memory twists grief and anger in her stomach.

There’s a sound like breaking glass that comes from her throat, and she curls her hand into her palm, feeling the ice grow there.

“Freya,” her Huntsman says, and that too sounds familiar. The plaintive tone of a man’s longing.

So she lets him take. She favors him, as she always has.

When it’s done and over, when she has wrapped herself in her softest fur and he is pushing her white hair away from her cheek, she tells him again to be weary of love.

“It is a cruelty, not a kindness,” she says.

“Can a man not love his Queen?” he kisses her full bottom lip, silencing her answer, breathing in her frost scent when he turns his face into her neck. He thinks of the roses she once captured in ice. She is like them – caught at the peak of her beauty but lacking true warmth. He wants to melt away her frigid exterior, but he already knows he cannot. She would not allow it, and she is as deep and unmovable as a wild river.

Already she is leaving him, pulling away, encasing herself in winter’s cold.

Freya touches his broad jaw. “Love, my Huntsman, will make you a pawn.”

He is an adult now, but he still does not understand.

He will learn.